Should I Force My Kid to Perform Music?

A few years ago, I started incorporating frequent recitals in to my teaching approach as a private music instructor. Several times a year, my students, young and old, hop up on stage and perform a couple of the pieces they've been working on in lessons. The overwhelming result is that students have a great time and find a great gratification in all the hard work they put in to their performance pieces. But that isn't always the case. So, I've often contemplated the question, "Should students be required to perform?"

My experience.

I remember my first school band concert. I was a short, awkward, Harry Potter glasses-wearing Fifth grader. And I was petrified. There were stairs backstage that we waited in line at before the performance. I remember gripping the handrail with my sweaty hands, never intending to let go and walk on to that stage. You'd think it wouldn't be so bad, being one of about forty kids on stage. But it was for me! I was sure that I was going to make an absolute fool out of myself up there.

We started playing our first piece, and something profound happened. All of the anxiety that I carried onstage with me transferred to a heightened awareness and concentration that I hadn't felt before. Everything moved in slow motion, and my parts in the music were all of a sudden easy.

After that, with each subsequent performance, my pre-concert anxiety slowly grew to be less and less. Even the concerts that went poorly helped prove to me that the world doesn't end when something goes awry in a performance. Now, seventeen years and hundreds of concerts later, performing is just about my favorite activity in the world.

But, not everyone has the same story as myself.

I often wonder what would have happened had that first concert not gone well. 

Several times a year, we host recitals for our music students at Vibe Music Academy. I can think of one time in particular where a new student had tremendous anxiety leading up to a recital. In the performance, she froze during a solo piano piece for what felt like an eternity. She drooped her head down toward her chest, and it seemed like she wasn't ever going to start back up again. I was sitting next to her, and I leaned over and whispered to her, "It's ok. Keep going. One, two, ready, go..." And, thank goodness, she started up again. She finished the song, took a bow, and sat back down in the audience. Naturally, the question I asked myself afterward was:

is performing beneficial for everyone?

Performances trigger the "fight or flight" reaction in people, especially in those with less performing experiences. According to Dr. Amy Przeworski, assistant professor in Case Western Reserve University’s psychology department, people who choose flight never realize that their bodies can make profound adaptations to anxiety-prompting circumstances. She also states that, though no student should ever be forced on stage, "the [performance] experience does help a child to learn to overcome his/her fears."

After the recital, my student told me that, though the performance didn't go off without a hitch, she was still proud of herself for getting up there and making it through the performance. I was proud of her too. And the next time she performed, though she was still anxious beforehand, she made it right through her pieces, no problem. I call that progress.

Don't get me wrong, I have had students who would rather die than even stand on a stage. I don't believe that parents or teachers should "force" students to perform. But, from my experience both as a performer and as a teacher and mentor to other performers, I believe that performance is an invaluable component of maturation not only as a musician, but as a person as well. Here are some of the benefits of participating in music performances:

  • It helps you develop courage to face your fears.
  • It improves your ability to accomplish a goal under pressure.
  • It gives you personal confidence that transfers to all areas of life.
  • It teaches perseverance in the midst of difficulty.
  • It enhances verbal, aural, expressive, and visual communication skills.

Bottom line.

Don't drag your student on stage against their will, but work hard to encourage them to see why they should drag themselves up there! At Vibe Music Academy, we think that student recitals should reflect the excitement and celebration deserved of the hard working and talented students being showcased. That's why we've made some adjustments to the typical flow of recitals. We call them Recital Soirees, and you can learn more about them here!

- John Gotsis, Owner and Music Instructor at Vibe Music Academy, Fishers, Indiana